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David Silverman

Following is a Q&A between Religion Transcends and the new president of American Atheists, David Silverman.*

Q. I cover several religious holidays on Religion Transcends. What do Atheists do during holiday seasons?

A. The reason for the season is the season itself.  The Winter Solstice has been observed with celebration since man first figured out that it was the shortest day of the year.  After all, what better reason is there to celebrate?

Q. Do you celebrate any other “observances” that could be considered holidays?

A. As you know, the term atheist is very broad.  Some atheists, especially Secular Humanists, celebrate HumanLight, which is a festive solstice celebration with most of the traditional trappings.  Some, like myself, huddle in the corner until the whole season passes.

Q. What is the biggest misconception about Atheists/Atheism?

A. That we are few in number.  Most polls show the nonreligious people hovering at around 15%, which is more than Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, combined, and doubled.  The problem is that most of these atheists are closeted, at least to some extent, and as a result most religious people think we are an insignificant minority.

A portion of that comes from the problem within the secular community.  If you as a Methodist his religion, he’ll say “Christian.”  if you as a Lutheran, he will also say “Christian.”  Presbyterian? Christian.  But if you ask an agnostic, which is a type of atheist, he’ll say “Agnostic”.  The same goes for Secular Humanists, Brights, and, rationalists.  But they are all atheists!  So again, we are perpetuating the misconception that atheists don’t exist by avoiding the A-word.

Q. Were you surprised by the results of the recent Pew Forum survey?

A. I was not at all surprised.  As an atheist, I get challenged on my religious knowledge all the time, usually beginning with “have you ever read the bible?” and moving on from there.  Religionists tend to quiz me to see if I know what I am talking about, and this happens very often.  As a result of interactions like this, atheists are more incented to research the religions in which they do not believe, which in turn leads to a firmer atheism.

On the other hand, religious people are typically discouraged from learning about other faiths, and very often they know very little of their own.  Most have not read their bible, and as a result live a life of obedient ignorance — which is exactly what the religious leaders want.

Q. “Hard-liner” Atheists (or aggressive Atheists as some might say) like Richard Dawkins often don’t just lack a belief in God. They also tend to take issue with/aim at organized religion. In light of that, are Atheists open to learning about religions? Is there something positive to be gained by understanding what religious folk believe?

A. There is no more value in learning about Christianity [for example] than there is in learning about any other Greek mythology, and Greek Mythology is better literature.  Once religion is understood, there is nothing more to gain, and no great lessons to learn.  Really.

*David Silverman has been an atheist since he was six years old.  After a Jewish upbringing, he became an “out-and-proud atheist,” debating other students in college, one of whom he married.  He became an activist in 1996 and was soon named NJ state director for American Atheists.  Several years later, he was named national spokesperson, and eventually vice president.  Now, as president, he has grabbed the reins of the organization he loves and hopes to one day adequately fill the shoes of its founder, Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

Created by Religion Transcends, 2010

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3 Responses to “Q&A with President of American Atheists”

  • This article is being misrepresented by Religion Transcends, as expected… they insinuate here and in tweets that the atheist says don’t learn about religions… but he actually says the opposite, he says learn the basics of each religion addiction, which will actually give you more knowledge of that religion than 99% of its addicts know, and give an ability to explain what is wrong with it… but don’t waste your whole life studying any religion, anymore than you would Greek Classics… they’re not worth it…

    Also, the answer to psychotic religious terrorism will not be found in India or in religion! As the film (NOT a ‘documentary’, too dishonest in its premise to be a documentary) points out, every religion has written orders to kill anyone not of that religion! Even Jesus says, “I bring not peace, but the sword…” -Leviticus .. India has only 8 religions according to the film, the USA has Normal People and EVERY religion and belief system living in it more or less peaceably side by side, because secular/atheist/Normal People who set up the USA demanded that 250 years ago!… So the idea is not ‘new’ among Normal People! NOTHING about the USA says to kill everyone who is not an American! So the secular USA (or similar France) is THE PLACE to look for world peace… NOT in religion…!

  • I came across this article via a friend’s post on Facebook so I’m not a regular reader of Religion Transcends.

    I’m a former Christian turned Agnostic. Agnostic because I feel there’s not enough proof one way or another on the possibility of some form of “creator”, but I’m convinced there’s no need for the various man-made religious dogmas. Having explained that about myself, I wanted to say that I do agree with Jackie’s rebuttal, as well as, the comment left by Byron. We all gain when we work to better understand the motivations of our neighbor. The more we know one another, our languages, traditions and histories, the better we communicate on all levels that affect us all regardless of religious opinion.

    The first two questions did strike me silly, though. Atheists, like LGBT people, are diverse. More diverse than any group coming together to share a belief in a certain religious doctrine as far as ideas like holidays would be concerned. Personally, I celebrate any holiday my boss gives me time off of work for! (humor)

  • Jackie,
    Interesting Q&A, and excellent questions… and I’m on board with your response. From a faith perspective, if he thinks there’s as much validity to Greek Mythology as contemporary faiths, that’s one thing, but from a cultural relevance perspective, he’s definitely missed the mark.

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